14 APPLY TO FILL OPEN MARATHON CITY COUNCIL SEAT

MARATHON, Florida Keys — The contemporary Seven Mile Bridge, at left, was completed in 1982 after four years of construction and connects Marathon and the Lower Florida Keys. The Old Seven Mile Bridge paralleling it, regarded as engineering miracle when it was completed in 1912, was the centerpiece of the iconic Florida Keys Overseas Railroad that operated until 1935. (Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau)

As of Jan. 19, the Marathon City Council had received 14 applications to fill the seat vacated when former councilman Trevor Wofsey resigned in the wake of his arrest for domestic violence.

The complete list of applicants, in no particular order, includes Wendy Bonilla, Eric Buhyoff, Jody “Lynny” Del Gaizo, Kristina Helms, John Lefner, Michael Leonard, Jeff Pinkus, Jerry Rojas, Mark Senmartin, Robyn Still, Richard Tamborrino, Alexander Taylor and Mike Aranda. The council must also decide whether they will accept and consider the application of Kevin Macaulay, who submitted his paperwork shortly after the 12 p.m. deadline.

Two of the candidates – Senmartin (2013-2021) and Pinkus (2003-2007) – enter the process with experience on the council. Del Gaizo was a candidate in the 2021 city council race, but finished just behind Wofsey in the final results.

The four seated council members will be tasked with appointing Wofsey’s successor at a special call meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 24. According to the city’s charter, the council must fill the vacated seat by the 30-day deadline of Feb. 4. Since the remainder of Wofsey’s term is more than 81 days, the appointed council member will serve until November 2022, when he or she could seek re-election by popular vote.

With an impassioned address in the most recent council meeting on Jan. 11, councilman Steve Cook raised concerns that a nominee was seemingly pre-selected to fill Wofsey’s seat. Urging the council to set up the special call meeting rather than appoint a successor that night, Cook said the council was “obliged to follow the policies and procedures that we have set forth legally to install an official in the city and never have the citizens think that our rules don’t matter.”

Councilman Luis Gonzalez confirmed that the seated members have been under extensive community pressure regarding the appointment. “No matter who we end up selecting, there will be folks who like that person and folks who don’t,” said Gonzalez. “I know that we are a much better community than what has been displayed to me this week, either by phone call, by email or by text.”

Apart from specifying that the appointee will be confirmed by majority rule and must be legally qualified to hold the office as a Marathon resident and registered voter, the charter provides virtually no other guidance for the selection process. “It’s got nothing,” said city attorney Steve Williams. “It’s just a few sentences.”

Given the lack of direction in the charter, Williams said the question of how the candidates will be presented, nominated and discussed is still a moving target. However, his inclination is to remove city staff from the process as much as possible.

“I certainly don’t want to be part of the staff who goes down in history as anyone who vetted or ranked the candidates or did anything like that. It’s not in our charter that we have to,” he said.

“If I get the inclination that it will be contentious, we may have to come up with a way to see who nominates first, but I have not gotten that impression so far.” Williams pointed to several objective ways to discuss candidates, including the order in which their applications were received, alphabetical order, or even random selection.

The special call meeting will take place at noon on Monday, Jan. 24 at the Marathon City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

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Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.